The battle for the hearts and minds of Coast voters by 2022 presidential hopefuls intensified on Saturday after supporters of Deputy President William Ruto clashed with those of Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi.
Lamu East MP Shariff Alwy and his Kisauni counterpart Ali Mbogo were heckled when they told Mr Mudavadi to his face that their 2022 candidate was Mr Ruto.
Mr Mudavadi was in Matuga, Kwale County, for the homecoming party of the area MP Kassim Tandaza who was elected on an ANC ticket.
The two MPs found the going tough when a section of the gathering, mainly comprising members of the ANC Women’s League, heckled them.
Mr Mbogo had asked Mr Mudavadi to join forces with Mr Ruto, reminding him that he and the DP had worked together during their days in the ODM Pentagon.
This did not, however, go down well with the pro-Mudavadi group who started heckling him, forcing him to change the topic.
Matters were worse for Mr Alwy who openly stated that his support for Mr Ruto will not be shaken.
“I have a wife and she is pregnant. I’m just waiting for the baby to be born and the baby is Mr Ruto,” he said, a remark which angered the pro-Mudavadi group who started marching towards the dais to eject him, forcing him to cut short his speech.
Changamwe’s Omar Mwinyi castigated the pro-Ruto MPs, accusing them of being carried away by “small favours like a few kilometres of roads” when Coast residents were facing serious problems.
“You are being fooled by a few kilometres of roads to support Ruto when our people are facing serious problems. I’m an old man and I must tell you the truth,” said Mr Mwinyi amid cheers from the crowd.
The clash between supporters of the two politicians came as the battle for the Coast vote went a notch higher.
Mr Mudavadi said his ANC party is consolidating its support for his 2022 presidential ambitions.
Mr Mudavadi’s visit came hot on the heels of that of Mr Ruto who visited Kadongo village in Kisauni last week to launch a land survey in the constituency.
On Friday, Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi appeared to muddy the waters when he declared that Coast leaders were working with the government on development matters only.
This, he said, followed the March 9 handshake between President Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga.
Addressing parents and teachers during a constituency Education Day at Ganze Secondary School, the governor said coast leaders were currently engaged in deep consultations regarding the 2022 elections.
“It is our party leader Raila Odinga who started it by shaking hands with President Kenyatta. That opened our arms to receive both the President and his Deputy. It is all due to the handshake. When it comes to politics, this region will make its own independent decision of fielding a presidential candidate. That is the basis of the ongoing consultations we are currently having,” he said.
Mr Kingi said accompanying national leaders who tour the region is purely pegged on development and it has nothing to do with politics.
REMAIN IN THE COLD
“Do you want us to be partners in the next government or you want us to remain in the cold as has been the norm?” Mr Kingi asked.
Mr Odinga, however, remains the man to beat in the race for the coastal vote given his near euphoric support in the region.
It is instructive that Mr Odinga’s closest allies – Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho, Likoni MP Mishi Mboko and her Mvita counterpart Abdulswamad Nassir – have kept off Mr Ruto’s tours in the region as their parliamentary colleagues openly declare their support for the DP.
Mr Ruto has visited the six Coast counties eight times after the March 9 handshake between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.
The presidential hopefuls are eyeing a slice of the 1.7 million votes in the six counties of Mombasa, Kilifi, Kwale, Taita-Taveta, Lamu and Tana River.
The DP seems to be taking advantage of the post-handshake political atmosphere to attempt to penetrate a region that has been hitherto hostile to Jubilee.
In his forays in the region, Mr Ruto has promised to deal with the myriad of problems bedevilling the Coast residents, especially the prevalent land problems that have remained unresolved since independence.
In Kadongo village, he assured the locals of title deeds within two months. When he toured Majaoni settlement scheme several weeks ago, he told the locals that they will soon get titles for their 409 acres.
The strategy seems to be working as some of the previously most vocal supporters of Mr Odinga in the region are slowly gravitating towards the DP.
“If Raila and Uhuru joined hands for the sake of the nation, why can’t we also work with the DP when he is at the Coast?” said Kilifi Woman Representative Gertrude Mbeyu.
Ms Mbeyu is a close ally of the vocal Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa, a recent convert to the Ruto 2022 Coast brigade.
Instead of traversing the region in the company of Jubilee politicians and government officials, many of who lost during the last General Election, Mr Ruto has changed tact.
He is currently using elected MPs – majority from Mr Odinga’s ODM – to sell his message, only too aware of the unpopularity of the Jubilee brigade.
And, even in doing so, Mr Ruto is careful to use the “spirit of the handshake” and the cover of “development” to explain his newfound strategy of embracing ODM MPs.
In his now routine tours of the region, Mr Ruto is cautious not to openly popularise his 2022 bid, instead using the development tag to win voters’ confidence.
With the squatter problem and neglected infrastructure being major campaign issues in successive general elections, Mr Ruto has insisted that the Jubilee government is keen to address them as part of its four-point agenda.
The DP seems determined to fulfill promises which were never delivered by past governments if he is to win the hearts of Coast voters.
“We must all of us forge ahead and work together for the sake of the country’s development goals,” the DP said in Lunga Lunga during the homecoming party for area legislator Khatib Mwashetani last weekend.
Mr Mwashetani was among those who survived the ODM onslaught and retained his seat on a Jubilee ticket. Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya also survived the ODM wave to retain his seat on the same ticket.
Kilifi North MP Owen Baya, whose constituency is one of the most affected by the squatter problem, appealed to Mr Ruto to visit his constituents.